“No Comment”: Getting to Know the Shadowy Oddsmaker for the Nobel Prize in Literature


The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced tomorrow. Who will win? Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (7/2)? Haruki Murakami (9/2)? Bob Dylan (25/1)? I’m pretty sure it will be Adonis (10/1), but, then again, I’ve been saying that for years. Recent statements, like this from one of the judges, suggest you’d do well to put your money on an African or Asian writer. Or someone who has never enrolled in an MFA course in creative writing. Or just anyone who isn’t American.

No matter where you put your money, you should bet on the prize, even if it isn’t totally legal. Bookish people rarely get such an opportunity to bank on their knowledge. I wanted the inside track, so I talked to the shadowy individual who compiles the odds for Ladbrokes, the British gaming company.

Can you explain what it is that you do for Ladbrokes? Give us a description of your job duties.

I am an odds compiler and handicapper for all non-sporting, cultural and specialist betting events. My duty is to use my razor-sharp, probability-calculating, mathematical mind in order to work out why a writer may be 5/1 to win the Nobel or an election is 7/2 to be won by the Conservatives.

What literary sites, blogs, or magazines do you read?

One should never reveal their sources, however I stay abreast of all news outlets, from tabloids to financial journals here and abroad among others. It’s important to build up a picture using as many sources as possible. Social media is very helpful too, but it’s always important to distinguish the signal from the noise.

What sorts of geopolitical events affect the odds for the prize? What do you look for in the news?

Specifically for the Nobel Prize in Literature this overall is less important, although events in the Middle East in the last few years have led to there being some increased interest in Adonis winning the prize.

Who are your favorite writers? What are your favorite books?

Where do we start! Seriously however, it’s important to remember that my personal taste shouldn’t come in to play when assessing the likely chance of an event happening or not. As an aside, the Man Booker committee very kindly send us the books from the full long list each year, and I enjoyed reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I have taken in the work of many of the Lit prize contenders in varying capacities over the years.

A friend of mine claims that last year there was a late run on Svetlana Aleksijevitj (6/1), the Belarusian journalist. Is that true? He also says he’s going to bet on Rushdie because he says that if Naipaul could win, so could Rushdie. What do you think about that?

He is correct. Aleksijevitj ended up as an odds-on favorite at the death last year, but ultimately that gamble went astray as they sometimes do.

I’d say your friend has a chance, of course, and I respect his opinion. That is the beauty of this as a betting contest, as there are so many differing opinions, all valid and well argued.

I’m interviewing you anonymously. Do you have to be anonymous?

No comment.

Do you get a vacation after they announce the winner?

Oh no. There is always something happening, always something to look forward to. We have some important by-elections taking place in the UK soon which will have a bearing on our general election next year, so I’ll be paying close attention to those events among others. Also, betting on the 2015 prize will open on the day of the announcement, so I will be making changes to my list

I do take time off like normal in the summer though, and I hold a season ticket at Crystal Palace football club. Whilst I may physically be out of the office, it’s very hard to detach your mind, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.